After three wins in four days, it looks like they've found it.
Consistent outside shooting and stellar execution at the defensive end of the floor in the second half helped the Knights put away Lumberton 68-55 Saturday night in the championship game of the holiday tournament.
West Bladen was a buzzer-beating shot away from losing its opener Wednesday night at Swett, but coupled that dramatic win with a 10-point victory over St. Pauls to reach the title round.
"We're not a big team, so we have to be faster and more athletic than our opponents," Pait said. "We didn't play great at Swett but got the win and played pretty well in the second game. Tonight, I thought we put it all together and really played aggressive on defense. I couldn't be more happier with the effort."
The Knights (5-2) broke up a tight game at the break with a dominant inside presence in the final 16 minutes. Center Nate Pryor tallied 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks while hot-shooting guard and tournament MVP Malcolm Vaught finished with four 3-pointers on his way to 16 points.
"Malcolm's the MVP, but this is a truly a team without a superstar," Pait said. "We've got a bunch of guys that work hard and want to win. It's definitely the most fun I've had coaching."
West Bladen opened the second quarter on a 7-0 run fueled by Vaught's third 3-pointer of the first half and led by as many as nine before the Pirates cut into the deficit. Lumberton couldn't sustain the energized, uptempo attack however and lost for the sixth time in nine games.
Lumberton 59, West Bladen 47
Lumberton's girls made sure the county didn't go home empty-handed and came away with a 59-47 win over previously unbeaten West Bladen in the night's first championship game.
Danny Graham's Lady Pirates appeared to be on a mission from the opening tip, beginning the contest on a 15-3 run highlighted by three 3-pointers and never trailed en route to its seventh title since 1999.
"It was a total team effort and our seniors really stepped it up," Graham said. "I fee like we beat a really good team and that's a testament to our players."
The Lady Knights, a first-time participant, scored the first seven points of the third quarter to cut into a double-deficit but had trouble defending tournament MVP Aliyah Ratley and two-time all-county forward Keanna McNeill. Ratley contributed 14 points and eight rebounds while McNeill poured in 15 and seven.
Azaya Graham scored a game-high 16 for the Lady Pirates who were playing their fourth game in five days.
"Those three girls are leaders on the floor," Graham said. "Aliyah had a fantastic tournament as did Azaya and Keanna. It seemed like every time West Bladen made a run, those girls responded."
It may have taken a few lumps and late-game losses, but Fairmont coach Chris Rodriguez says his girls basketball team is finally learning how to finish and that’s a good sign with conference play yet to begin.
The Lady Golden Tornadoes capped an effective Shootout run Saturday afternoon with a 48-39 victory over Red Springs for third place at UNCP, moving within a single game of last season’s win total.
Fairmont (5-4) led by 12 points with 2:01 left before the Lady Red Devils went on a 10-0 run to pull within two over the next 45 seconds. Na’Jewel Ingram’s reverse layup after an offensive rebound with a minute to play put away Red Springs. “Red Springs didn’t quit and we’re still learning how to win,” Rodriguez said. “I’m proud of the way we fought at the end after they made a run.”
Fairmont used a dominating postgame and rebounding edge to hand the Lady Red Devils their fifth loss in nine games. Robyn McPhaul’s 14-point, five-assist performance wasn’t enough for first-year coach Steven Sinclair’s club.
Ingram tallied 14 points and a season-high nine rebounds.
“Na’Jewell is only averaging two rebounds a game, so I kind of challenge her to play a little harder,” Rodriguez said. “When your point guard (Anasia Evans) has more rebounds than one of your better frontcourt players, something isn’t right. I was proud of the way Na’Jewell competed down low.”
St. Pauls 50, Dillon, S.C. 49 - OT
When the offense wasn’t there, the defense was. And despite a lack of execution that lingered throughout Saturday’s third-place game, St. Pauls’ boys basketball team found a way to win, a dramatic 50-49 decision in overtime.
“Third place isn’t all that bad,” St. Pauls coach Travis Lemanski said. “We kept fighting and even though we didn’t play to our fullest potential, we pulled it out.”
Malik Livingston and Deion Gilchrist — St. Pauls’ top scorers — scored all nine of their team’s points in the extra session. Gilchrist played nearly the entire second half with four fouls before fouling out with 38 seconds left in overtime.
“I think this proves we can play with anybody,” Gilchrist said. “It gives us some confidence in a road game-type atmosphere.”
With the score tied at 37 with 2:45 left to play in regulation, Jaquell Johnson hit back-to-back baskets in the post for the Bulldogs (5-3) to give St. Pauls a two-possession lead that would hold until the final minute.
Dillon missed three free throws with the game tied in the last 16 seconds that would’ve given the Wildcats the lead. Dillon went on a 9-0 in the third quarter to capture their largest lead of the game at 29-22. D.J. Inman’s technical foul spurned the run and seemed to re-energize Dillon at the offensive end after the Wildcats scored just 14 points in the first half.
The Bulldogs answered defensively down the stretch and limited the Wildcats’ second-chance looks at the basket. Dillon (6-2) upset Fairmont in the opening round and lost at the buzzer in the semifinals at Lumberton.
The Bulldogs’ victory was their second of the season over a team with a winning record.
Led by a girls Shootout-high outing from Aterria Quick, South Robeson’s girls basketball team beat St. Pauls 61-39 at UNCP to capture fifth place.
Quick outscored St. Pauls by herself in the first half with 22 points and accumulated eight of her team’s 16 steals. The Lady Mustangs led throughout and used the inside-outside game of Quick and Ahlea Dickens to finish their pre-holiday schedule with a victory.
Fairmont 68, Swett 54
In the boys contest, Fairmont pulled away from Purnell Swett in the fourth quarter to win its sixth game of the season, 68-54.
During a three-possession stretch midway through the final frame, Fairmont’s Shemar Barfield scored six straight points and pushed a minimal lead to 11. His inbounds steal and layup at the 4:02 mark put the Golden Tornadoes in front 58-47. He finished with a game-high 22 to help Fairmont win its sixth game of the season.
“My teammates needed me to step up,” Barfield said. “But there are still areas we’ve got to work on like defensive rebounding.”
No team led at any stretch by more than six during the first three quarters in a competitive affair that featured multiple leads changes. Tyler Maynor gave the Rams a 44-42 advantage in the final minute of the third with his third 3-pointer of the game before the Golden Tornadoes responded with a quarter-ending 5-0 run. Maynor was Swett’s leading scorer with 17 points.
Fairmont’s Kwinton Hinson, a sophomore, pulled down 11 rebounds, blocked five shots and scored 15 points. Over three games, Hinson averaged 21.6 points in his first Shootout appearance. For the first time in three seasons, the Golden Tornadoes did not appear in the tournament’s championship game.